Upon glancing at TCM’s schedule for this month, I was thrilled to see that the network is paying tribute to the wonderful June Allyson as their featured Star of the Month. In addition to her status as one of the most charming and charismatic stars at MGM, I have a special connection to June Allyson that makes me especially happy to see her honored this month. I will talk about that later in this post.
Known for her sweet, girl-next-door image, June Allyson reigned as one of the top stars of MGM in the 1940s and 1950s. In contrast to her wholesome, suburban persona onscreen, the girl who was born Ella Geisman grew up in poverty, raised by various relatives in the New York City projects. Despite a childhood accident that rendered her unable to walk for several years without a steel brace, she became a seasoned dancer and eventually began to land gigs in nightclubs and acting roles in musical short subjects with Vitaphone Pictures. In 1938, at the age of 21, she got her first Broadway role in Sing Out the News, and her first starring role came 3 years later in George Abbott’s production of Best Foot Forward.
Due to her performance in the Broadway show, MGM asked Allyson to appear in the film version that was in pre-production in Hollywood. She agreed, and made the trip west. Upon her arrival, she found that Best Foot Forward was going slower than expected, and she was cast in a tiny role in Girl Crazy (1943) to keep her occupied. This is June Allyson’s first appearance in a feature film.
Best Foot Forward came to fruition later the same year, and when Arthur Freed saw her screen test, he demanded that she be put under a long-term contract immediately. Allyson thrived at MGM, using her cherubic face, wide smile, and arrestingly husky voice to her advantage in such films as Two Girls and a Sailor (1944), Good News (1947) and Little Women (1949).
With Peter Lawford in Good News (1947)
The trailer for Little Women (1949)
In 1945, June Allyson married heartthrob Dick Powell, much to the chagrin of Louis B. Mayer who thought Powell was bad for her studio image. She was placed on suspension, but she and Powell remained married until Powell’s death in 1963 and the couple adopted 2 children together. After Powell’s death, Allyson was invited to appear alongside old MGM rival Judy Garland on “The Judy Garland Show,” marking one of the most delightful episodes of the series.
Acting on a lifelong interest in medicine, in later life June Allyson committed herself to educating the public about gynecological and urological diseases in seniors, eventually founding the June Allyson Foundation for Public Awareness and Medical Research. She continued with this work until she died in 2006, at the age of 88.
Now for my connection to June Allyson. I was lucky enough to have met this wonderful woman in the summer of 1998, when I was 12 years old. My very obliging mother had taken me halfway across the country to attend the Judy Garland Festival in Grand Rapids, MN, and June Allyson was the guest of honor that year. I remember her so vividly. Her spirit filled the room, her voice was warm, her character gentle and sweet. She loved children, so my sister and I were subject to great affection. I remember several big bear hugs, and she interacted with me with great tenderness and love. I felt that we were dear friends. I’ve carried that beautiful memory of June Allyson with me always, and I miss her dearly.
Don’t forget to tune in to TCM tonight for an evening with June Allyson! Showing tonight: Two Girls and a Sailor at 8:00 EST, Best Foot Forward at 10:15, and Good News at midnight.